Supporters of the Houthi movement shout slogans as they attend a rally to mark the 4th anniversary of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen's war, in Sanaa, Yemen March 26, 2019. .
(photo credit: KHALED ABDULLAH/ REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia claimed on Tuesday that Iran-backed Houthi rebel drones targeted their oil pumping stations in what it called a "cowardly" attack two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih confirmed on Tuesday that two oil pumping stations for the East-West pipeline had been hit by explosive-laden drones, calling the attack "an act of terrorism" that targeted global oil supplies.
Falih said that Saudi oil output and exports for crude and refined products were continuing without disruption, but that the state oil giant Aramco had halted oil pumping in the pipeline while the damage was evaluated and the stations were repaired, according to a statement carried by the state news agency SPA.
Riyadh has been leading a coalition alongside the Yemen government against the Iranian-backed Houthis. In many cases the Houthis have used Iranian technology and support to create a ballistic missile and drone program to fight Saudi Arabia.
Also on Tuesday morning, Al-Masirah TV claimed that the Houthis had carried out a “major operation” against Saudi Arabia. The report was picked up by Iran’s Tasnim news and also by Press TV.
The sources told the TV station that drones were used in the attack. Reports said that the drones sought to attack the area of Al-Assir which is about 100 km. north of the Yemenite border. Missiles and UAVs were both used.
This is not the first time the Houthis have used drones. Since 2017 reports have indicated that Houthi drones are Iranian-made or based on Iranian designed. In recent years Iran has sought to expand its drone arm, either copying captured western drones or creating its own armed and unarmed models.
The Houthis have been selected by Iran as a good place to test out the drone capabilities against a western-backed army like the Saudis who use US and other western equipment. An Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace in February of 2018 and was shot down. It is part of the wider regional contest between Iran, its allies and Iran’s adversaries. Drones are a key component of this conflict.
Iranian media thinks the drone strikes are important because it burnishes Iran’s image and shows that Iranian backing, even if Iran doesn’t take direct credit for that backing, is aiding the Houthis. It comes as tensions rise between the US and Iran and the US has threatened to respond to any attack by Iran or its proxies. Four ships were damaged in the Gulf of Oman in an act of sabotage.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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